21 September 2017 Register to receive our free newsletter by email each week
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IRAN: Gender segregation in universities

While Iran is moving from co-education to segregation of the sexes in universities, Saudi Arabia is taking the other road by opening its first co-educational university, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.

The Saudi drive to lure foreign academics and international students to KAUST was the main reason behind the move to speed higher education reform and boost the country's technological transformation. The Iranian move was announced by Kamran Daneshjou, Iranian Minister of Science, who said this would be a "positive and unproblematic" decision.

But Hamid Dabashi, professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in the US, told University World News: "It is a terrible move in Iran, and a right move in Saudi Arabia - women should have a choice in joining single-sex or mixed high schools, colleges, and universities."

Numerous courses in Iranian public universities are currently co-educational while Alzahra and Masomeh are the only ones that are exclusively for women, and midwifery is the only field exclusively open to women.

Following so-called "cautionary" statistics about the increasing number of Iranian women in universities, post-secondary authorities have established a policy to ensure the presence of each gender at university does not fall below 30%.

"This move is politically charged to control the masses of students to prevent them from expressing their political and social demands, and it will back fire," said Davood Rahni, an Iranian professor of chemistry at the US-based Pace University. "The number of college students in Iran is currently over 3 millions, with nearly 65% women and that includes the majority of students in medicine and healthcare, engineering and sciences."

Rahni added: "The best students in Iran are women. One of the key to success is the competition between genders in courses and research. Besides, this is not logistically and economically practical for Iran that is undergoing massive economic downturns at the moment."

Despite this latest decision to segregate the sexes, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in September appointed the country's first woman as Vice-president of the Office of Science and Technology. Nasrin Soltankhah, 46, was previously head of the Research and Training Institute for Management and Development Planning.
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